As the days lengthen and the temperatures rise, our alpacas, heavily fleeced after a year’s fluffy growth, begin to look uncomfortable. They sleep outside at night to cool their bodies down; they hide in the old stone barn during the day to avoid overwarming in the sun. Alpacas can succumb to heatstroke, even in temperate climates, so it is in everyone’s best interest to have the annual shearing, the sooner the better now that the likelihood of an overnight freeze is minimal.
Last year, we returned our four-animal herd to the breeder from whom we acquired them, via a rented panel van, on one day of their three-day “shear-a-thon. It took hours to convince our boys to get haltered and step into that van for the half-hour drive. On arrival, they seemed distressed by all the bustle and noise around them, as they had become accustomed to the calm barn and quiet pastures on Hard Hill. When we were loading them back into the van to head home, they jumped out of the van and began to run around the breeder’s property, dangerously close to a busy road. It took a dozen people working together as a walking human fence to gather them back into the van for the trip home. It was a suboptimal experience for all of us, and we vowed to find a better way.
This year, a referral from another breeder brought a shearer out to Hard Hill, so the herd did not have to travel. He called us on a Saturday evening to say he could fit our small herd into his schedule the following evening, if we could provide good cover from the elements, as heavy rains were forecast for Sunday. We agreed. May Day came, and it was cold and rainy all day. Although we had been admonished to keep the animals dry for the shearing, our historic barn lacks front doors, and our boys have a habit of slipping through the gates. By the time we went down to check on them, two had already snuck out into the showers and their soon to be shorn fleeces were wet. We locked the gates, and reinforced them with the movable fence panels we had purchased the weekend before. There was humming and pacing by the boys, but they calmed down, and we went back into the house.
Our shearer arrived right on time, around six in the evening. The boys were haltered and waiting, still humming and pacing. Nathan Good and his assistant quickly assessed the space and the animals, and set up the shearing station. The herd crowded itself into a corner next to a doorway, clearly anxious: who were these men, why were they putting weird stuff on the floor of their barn, and were there any injections involved? One by one, Nathan captured a boy and helped him onto a mat, safely restrained him, and went to work. Gordon growled, and Archie pouted, but the task was completed quickly, quietly, and professionally. The alpacas continued to cower in the corner, but it was far easier on them than the previous year. It’s safe to say that it was less stressful for all of us.
Sadly, we had to discard more of the seconds than we had hoped, due to that infestation of burdock seed pods in the boys’ fleece. We had worked diligently since autumn to remove the sticky offenders, which were the original inspiration for the invention of Velcro. But we often let the boys out into the land along the creek that climbs up Hard Hill, and between snowstorms and spring rains, they found a distant burdock patch, under which lay fresh grass to munch, and the seeds stuck to them like, well, Velcro. We’ve learned an expensive lesson about weeds’ drive to survive and multiply. Soon the fleece will be delivered to our friends at Blue Mountain Farm and Fiber Mill, and some weeks from now will return cleaned, carded and processed into roving for me to hand spin into yarn. The best thing is that this resource is renewable, and those alien-bobbleheads now in the barnyard will be in good, warm fluff again before Christmas.